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England Rugby Women's squad look to bounce back after opening defeat
England women were caught cold in their opening game of the Women’s Rugby Super Series in Salt Lake City as they went down 52-17 to Canada.
The Canadians burst out of the blocks and led 39-0 at the break before England fought back with tries from Katie Mason, Mille Wood on debut and Bianca Blackburn.
It was a brilliant start from Canada, who led after just three minutes thanks to scrum-half Chelsea Guthrie’s try, converted by Andrea Burk, who added a penalty not long after.
More great ball movement led to a second Canadian try from Barbara Mervin, soon followed by a close-range effort from Mary-Jane Kirby as they led 24-0.
Emily Belchos got the fourth, before two tries either side of half-time from Julianne Zussman but after the introduction of Alex Matthews, England responded.
First Mason finished off a good period of possession wide on the right before a fine finish from Wood in the centre. Blackburn was then on the end of one of the tries of the day, taking the ball from Matthews then showing power and determination to run in from halfway.
Canada did have the final say though with quick hands sending Katie McNally over for the last try of the day.
In a rematch of the 2014 World Cup final, it was Canada who took the spoils, and in Julianne Zussman they have a back three threat who looks to be the equal of Magali Harvey – currently on Sevens duty. Zussman scored two and was dangerous every time she got the ball. She will be a key figure throughout this tournament.
Trailing 44-0 early in the second half England could easily have crumbled but the world champions are made of sterner stuff and ran in three fine second-half tries. First Katie Mason showed her poacher’s instincts, soon followed by debutant Millie Wood. And Bianca Blackburn’s effort was arguably the pick of the lot as she raced in from halfway, brushing off a couple of tackles along the way.
It wasn’t the easiest of first appearances for Millie Wood in an England side that found themselves on the back foot very early, but the Lichfield centre stuck to the task ahead. She showed just why she was given the chance in the second half with a brilliant try as she spotted the Canadian defence racing up and arced around to score in the left corner.
Lead Coach Scott Bemand said: “We came up against a very strong Canada side today with some outstanding athletes.
“We didn’t adapt to the environment well enough to be competitive. The Canadians played with a physicality and intensity that we didn’t match at the start of the start of the game.
“We are disappointed but we have four days to regroup and to put this right and we have some exciting games to come, not least against France who we know well.”
He added: “There were some positives from today. Alex Mathews, on her return to the squad from the sevens programme, made a huge impact off the bench, earning herself player of the match after just 35 minutes on the pitch, and Millie Wood celebrated her first cap with a try.”
England have the chance to make ammends today when they take on France. The two sides last met in the final game of the Six Nations, with the French victorious to grab the title from under English noses.